Outdoors

Bluebirds coming in for a landing

Bird migrations are in full wing through the Inland Northwest this month.

Sandhill cranes and long-billed curlews showed up on schedule for the Sandhill Crane Festival that’s concluding today in Othello.

Birdwatchers are reveling daily about new arrivals at their feeder and favorite birding hot spots.

Tundra swans are flocking to wetlands through the region on their way to northern breeding grounds.

Lisa Hardy, president of the Coeur d’Alene Audubon Society, reported county 1,200 tundra swans and 1,660 northern pintails in flooded fields around the Cataldo area last weekend. “The swans were scattered over a wide area, a most impressive sight,” she said, noting that she also spotted two trumpeter swans in the melee.

While many spring migrants are just passing through, others are zeroed in on this region as their breeding destination. Bluebirds, by their bright color, are among the most noticeable.

Two species of bluebirds live in this region, the western bluebird and the mountain bluebird, which is Idaho’s state bird. The mountain bluebird is larger than the western and both are slightly smaller than robins, notes Phil Cooper, Idaho Fish and Game Department spokesman in Coeur d’Alene.

The male mountain bluebird has a very bright back and is pale blue below. The female is mostly gray with a trace of blue on the wings and tail. The western bluebird is less brightly colored and males and females both have rust on the breast.

Thoreau referred to the mountain bluebird as the “bird with the sky on its back” due to the brilliant color they exhibit when the sunlight is refracted as it strikes their feathers.

Although bluebirds are more common in fairly open country at elevations above 4,000 feet, they also are found in lower elevations, Cooper said.

Bluebirds are ground feeders with special fondness for grasshoppers.

“The bluebird’s bill is not suited for creating nest cavities, so they make their nests in existing cavities excavated by woodpeckers or other animals,” he said, noting that the birds are already scoping out sights for this year’s nesting.

“Since many trees with suitable nesting holes have been cut for firewood, cleared to make way for development or have been occupied by non-native starlings or house sparrows, some bluebirds do not nest because they do not find suitable homes,” he said.

“Man-made nest boxes help to fill the shortage of natural nest sites. Many Idahoans have already discovered the fun and satisfaction of building, placing and monitoring bluebird nest boxes,” he added, noting that volunteers produce up 1,000 boxes a year for people to put up in appropriate places.’



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